Some thoughts from frequent traveling parents on how to make life in the very slow lane of airport security just a little bit easier.
Aaahhh life. Just when the global economy seemed to be improving a tiny bit, and after 18 months of vacation withdrawal, we get a Christmas Day terrorist incident to make us question whether even a very cheap 2010 vacation is a good idea.
Americans have handled the Nigerian suicide bomber with resilience: the media has touted scoops about The Underwear Bomber and coverage about his spoiler, The Flying Dutchman; marketers are rushing out security-sensitive products and see-through suitcases; airlines are raising the checked bag fees; and security officials are pointing fingers. Accusations of inept security, lack of communication between law enforcement agencies, poor training of airport workers — even blame cast on agents for being too modest to properly examine passengers — have all added up to not much improvement in the current security system.
As for travelers, we have been promised that we will sit next to more air marshals, encounter more patdowns and, eventually, be subjected to full body-scans while passing through airport security. What’s a family to do?
Prepare the Kids Before You Get to the Plane
Before discussing prevention measures, we recommend that adults talk with kids, especially unaccompanied minors, about what to expect at the airport, and how to behave in light of enhanced security. Explain that adults and children may be separated by strangers, and that any of them may be asked questions or have their bodies examined in special ways.
Society spends a lot of time and energy teaching young children not to go anywhere with strangers or allow themselves to be touched, and rightfully so. At airports, children who are selected for secondary screening at security or the departure gate may well be separated from parents for the first time, or be subjected to what they perceive as inappropriate behavior.
Check your Luggage
Next, we recommend to families — who are often traveling with a lot of carry-on luggage — to check as much as they can.
Checked baggage is screened separately and allows families to avoid the hassle of filling 3oz. bottles with baby sunblock, children’s aspirin or other special products. Spokesperson Ann Davis from the TSA has assured us that items such as infant formula and car seats would be permitted on board flights with no more screening than exists today, but other items that kids carry — and the children themselves — would be subject to additional screening if they set off an alarm at the magnetometer screening portal.
Families can use one larger suitcase instead of several smaller roll-aboards to cut down on the per bag fees.
Keep in mind that TSA has increased its random use of Explosive Trace Detection (ETD) technology throughout airports. We were “busted” several years back while returning from China, because our 8-year-old had brought home a favorite souvenir — a small toy tank made with unused bullet casings that a metal sculptor was selling at a Xi’an gift shop. It was quite a remarkable folk art piece, and once security officers had examined it thoroughly and showed it to all their colleagues, they let him keep it.
Know the Carry-On Bag Rules
Unless a family is carrying the passports of, or transiting, one of the 14 “state sponsors of terrorism or other countries of interest” it’s likely that patdowns and more personally invasive screening will result from setting off an alarm at the first line of security.
At FamilyTravelForum.com we know that having carry-on luggage stocked with snacks, books and toys to soothe restless kids is inevitable — in fact, we highly recommend it. Therefore, if kids need their Hot Wheels cars or favorite talking doll or iPod for the flight, parents must make sure they’re in the child’s pack that goes through X-ray, and not in the child’s pockets.
Separate liquids and gels, Play-Doh and juice bottles, before it’s your turn at the security portal.
In keeping with the increased random use of technology within security checkpoints, explosive detection systems are now used to randomly screen passengers’ hands and carry-on luggage. Expect to see officers swabbing a piece of carry-on luggage or even your kids’ hands, then use ETD technology to test for explosives. The swab is placed inside the ETD unit which analyzes the content for the presence of potential explosive residue. To ensure the health of travelers, screening swabs are disposed of after each use, so you can reassure kids there is nothing to worry about here.
Arrive Early & Be Prepared to Wait
Families will have to arrive earlier than in the past for their flight; two hours for domestic flights and three hours before international flights is the current new standard. Be sure to check the airline’s website for suggested check-in times and do any advance work, such as printing out boarding passes, that you can.
Since 2008, families have been offered a Family Lane at many U.S. airports that moves more slowly and more sympathetically than the average trusted traveler lanes filled with cut-throat business travelers. Lining up calmly without rushing can soothe children and help them get through the longer waiting times.
With the inevitable longer waits, families who travel frequently may want to consider purchasing temporary airport lounge passes, available through credit card companies or sites such as www.prioritypass.com or www.loungepass.com.
All Ages should Carry Lots of ID
We also advise all teens to carry a photo I.D. Although children under 18 are not required to show a government-issued photo I.D. that matches their boarding pass, TSA agents are likely to request I.D. from older teens if they have no way of verifying their age.
Your child’s school I.D. or library card won’t cut it, but many states now offer an Official Photo I.D. for a nominal charge; it’s issued by the local Motor Vehicles office to non-ddrivers of any age.
Ask What to Anticipate During the Flight
While flight attendants won’t divulge security details, they are very sympathetic stewards of your inflight experience, and are trained to cope with almost any situation. Remeber, the airlines want you to fly again and are working hard with their staff to keep the “friendly skies” less stressful.
However, at the pilot or flight crew’s discretion, passengers may be required to remain seated or put away laptops, books, blankets and more for all or any portion of their flight. To minimize in-flight hassles if passengers are asked to remain in their seats, make sure kids use the toilet before and after meals, any naps and prior to descent.
If you’re asked to stow carry-ons for any length of time, having the kids buckled in with their hands on top of blankets or other covers may allow you to leave them undisturbed for a little while longer.
This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question, and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.